Timothy Porter toiled 16 years in the banking world. Specifically, he worked his way up the ranks with Synovus Financial Corp., ultimately becoming a risk management executive.
Two years ago, the Columbus resident decided to take one of the biggest risks of his life -- become an entrepreneur. Thus began the launch of Orbis Systems LLC, an online business development company that added a student e-learning website called eLibertas last August.
Last September, Porter took the hugest leap, giving his two-week notice at Synovus to step away and nurture Orbis full time out of his home in the Midland area of Columbus. Assistance comes in the form of a handful of local volunteers hoping to rise from the ground floor of the company to the next big thing on the Internet.
In January, the Orbis CEO launched a third web service -- buzzgoo.com -- which is giving creative types a platform for marketing and selling their work. Photographers, writers, video bloggers, musicians, filmmakers and game developers all are welcome.
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Porter, 44, discussed his job, company and aspirations in an interview last week. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to launch Orbis Systems LLC?
The primary reason was to try to find ways to help make people successful. We went through the recession and there were a lot of people out there struggling and looking for ways to find a niche and, in essence, to survive. A lot of people on the lower level don’t have a way to gain exposure so they can have a chance. I knew there was a gap there.
Buzzgoo is the most creative component of your company. Why launch that?
I saw an opportunity. What I realized from the outset was there are no avenues for grassroots or aspiring artists to get exposure. If you think about it today, you have to jump through hoops as a filmmaker to get Hollywood to take a look at your films. With the music industry, how many new tracks are being played on the radio today like they used to be? How many photographers have a chance to have their work recognized? And gamers by themselves have a very difficult time because there are so many games out there and they don’t get exposure. Today we have a film from Japan on our site. We have one from Australia. We have one from India. And we’ve got them from throughout the U.S. And we just opened up a competition.
How did you come up with the name ‘buzzgoo’?
It was pretty funny. We knew we needed the word buzz in there. And when it comes to entertainment, it has to be a sticky sort of buzz. A lot of times there’s excitement and then it dies. Well, buzz means excitement and goo means sticky, so it’s like a sticky excitement. Plus, it’s a silly name and those stick with people.
What has the response been?
The feedback has been great. Over the past several days, we probably have had 30,000 unique visitors hitting our site. We’re looking to reach about 60,000 for the month, and that’s pretty good for just launching.
You use a volunteer staff?
I have four people that work with me -- a chief legal officer, chief operating officer, business development person, and sales and marketing person. They are on the ground floor. They’re working their butts off.
What is eLibertas about?
It’s designed to help make students successful. A college student can enter any sort of math question, be it geometry, calculus, basic math, you name it, and we can provide the answer back within a matter of seconds. The same thing with other subjects, be it physics, biology, what have you. eLibertas also gives them the ability to put in a turn-the-page book they’ve got to read. They can either upload it, paste it in or give us a url, and we can summarize that book in five pages, 10 pages, 20 pages, you name it.
What’s been the response to that?
We have it in beta (testing) now because there are a couple of features we need to add to it before we say, OK, now it’s really time to push it. We have students that are using it, but we have not gone through a marketing push on that.
And there’s Orbis Innovations?
Let’s say an individual has an idea, and they don’t know how to get the idea off the ground. We have the ability to help you with the marketing, with the legal aspect of it, with the IT aspect of it. If you want to offshore your IT development, we can help you with that as well.
All this seems totally opposite to working with a bank?
I loved my time at Synovus. I worked in risk management. Of course, what we did was look at the financials of the company, from start to finish. I was in risk mitigation. I’m supposed to be risk adverse when you’re in risk management, and here I am jumping out there taking a risk.
Starting a company takes money. How has that gone?
Initially it’s about bootstrapping it. You put in the effort, the hours, the time. You get three or four hours of sleep a night. And you put in all of the finances. It’s all about skin in the game.
Your staff has invested in the company?
What they’ve invested, which is the most important thing, is time. It’s the staff that’s actually making buzzgoo and eLibertas and Orbis Innovations move. As far as the bottom line, the financing is me. Until a company begins to grow, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the capital to meet those growth expectations ... A lot of angel investors, or venture capitalists, want to see how much skin you have in the game.
When will you reach out to an investor for funds?
Once we get about 100,000 (visitors) we’ll know it’s time for us to really start looking at our infrastructure, servers, IT and full-time staff.
What’s your day-to-day duties?
It’s being on call with our developers, testing, site design, marketing, getting with Rob (Poydasheff) on the legal aspects of everything.
How do you make money?
With eLibertas there’s a free product and a paid product. With buzzgoo, there’s advertising dollars. With the fees we generate on other sales, that brings in some revenues to offset expenses.
You are global?
Right now our top markets are the U.S., followed by India, followed by the UK, followed by Japan. In the month of January we had visitors from 40 different countries.
Your biggest challenge?
There are two things. The first is it’s innovate or die. And the second is word of mouth. We have not had a big market push.
What are the advantages of working from home?
The advantage is it’s easy for me to work 20-hour days without having to get into a car and drive. When I worked downtown I would spend 40 to 45 minutes just going back and forth to work. Now I’ve got that time back. I’ve got three laptops, a big Mac desktop, a couple of phones and a tablet, and it’s all there for me to work on.
Are there any drawbacks?
The difficulty is knowing when to shut it off. It’s getting out of bed after staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning. The biological clock says get up no later than 7. But it’s all good, it’s fun, and it doesn’t feel like work. That’s probably the coolest thing about it. I’ve always heard it said that when you’re doing what you love to do, it’s not work.
Does the risk sometimes make you antsy?
Yes, it does. But, you know, you’ve got to take risks to change the world.
If this doesn’t pan out, you can always head back to the corporate world?
By no means. It’s not in a bad way, but it literally is burning those ships once you sail across the ocean. And there’s only one way that you can make it and that’s to survive where you are.